This year’s NBA Season is almost upon us! And it promises to be an exciting one, with new-look teams featuring new star alliances, and a great line of rookies coming in to challenge the old order. Last time, we discussed the teams most likely to emerge as this NBA season’s best of the west. (Please read: Conquering the NBA’s Wild, Wild West.) Today, we’ll discuss which beast of the east will come out to challenge the best of the west.
Last year’s NBA champs, the Toronto Raptors, are not the top favorites for the eastern conference crown; with the departure of the Anointed One, Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s abrupt departure as the King of the North, coupled with the ‘Great Migration of Stars’ that we witnessed this off-season, forced a further shift of power to the already-loaded western conference. But over in the east, the same teams will contend, including the Raptors.
Easily topping the east’s list of faves are the 2 throne-hopefuls waylaid by Toronto in their Cinderella run last season. These are the ‘processing’ Philadelphia 76ers and the youthful Milwaukee Bucks. Next in line are the retooling Boston Celtics, the reigning Toronto Raptors and a healthy Indiana Pacers. Should Kevin Durant make a miraculous recovery in time for the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets automatically join the east’s elite list of contenders.
The Sixers probably have the strongest starting five in the conference with Al Horford joining the team. Remember how close they were to knocking out the eventual champs in the last playoffs? Despite the departure of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, the Sixers will still have a tremendous advantage in size and flexibility. They have the capability to obliterate, if not overpower, almost all other teams in the eastern bloc. Indeed, any starting team consisting of Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris will pose nightmare match-up problems.
The previous season, the Bucks took the Celtics to the 7th and final game before bowing out. Last season, they improved, annihilating the Celts. This year, the Bucks led the Raptors 2-0 in their playoff meeting before bowing out. If their maturity process continues to hold, the Bucks should be on top of the heap at the end of the season. Sure, they lost Malcolm Brogdon, but they brought in another shooter in Wes Matthews. With current league top honcho Giannis Antetokounmpo, plus Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez making sweet music together, the Bucks remain one of the top picks in the east.
The Celts blew up a star-studded team which underperformed last year, banishing Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier. In return, they got Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. This is a case of ‘making more with less’. The Celts’ had team chemistry issues last year, as each position was packed to the brim. The move to unload Kyrie and the rest will hopefully unleash the tiger in a smaller, yet more cohesive team. This team brings in Kemba, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown front and center.
Despite the departure of King Kawhi, the Raptors remain a potent threat in the east. With the invaluable maturity gained from the playoff wars last year, plus Paskal Siakam stepping forward as the team’s next ‘anointed’ star, plus the return from injury of another budding star in OG Anunoby, expect the Raptors to be in the middle of the fight for the eastern crown. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Paskal still makes the starting team look formidable.
The Indiana Pacers overachieved last year without their go-to star, Victor Oladipo. Displaying a stifling defense starring Myles Turner, this team will welcome back the explosive Oladipo to max the offensive end. Added to that, there’s Bojan Bogdanovic and Domantas Sabonis for added offensive firepower.
If Kevin Durant recovers in time for the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets will display a formidable triumvirate that can match-up with the best there is. Backing up Kevin will be Kyrie and hulking center DeAndre Jordan.
The new environment in the east promises to provide some pleasant surprises. With other MVP hopefuls teaming up (Lebron/AD, Kawhi/George, Westbrook/Harden, Durant/Irving), Giannis is expected to win his second MVP, barring any injuries. (Please read: Rating the Best Combos in the Next NBA Season.) Rookie sensation Zion Williamson is the consensus pick for rookie of the year, although Ja Morant and RJ Barrett should give him a run for his money. Most of the top names in the rich rookie class will be showing their wares in the eastern conference, making the east younger, more aggressive, more dynamic.
There you have it, folks. Which beast of the east will reign supreme? It could be Giannis versus Embid for the eastern jewel. And then they look west. Where the gathering clouds of a foreboding Battle for El-Ay is certain to rock the kingdom. (Please read: Exciting Times Ahead for the Next NBA Season.)
But that is a story for another time.
For now, gather ye, oh worshippers of cage gods, past and present. The new NBA battles are about to begin. See the gladiators of old as they do battle with the new class of warriors in the arena. Savor the new alliances, watch them as they spill each other’s guts for all to see. And watch out for the new balling trends and styles for the bold and the creative. With the evolution of the global cage environment, exciting times are up ahead. It’s time to rock and roll!!!
Cover Photo courtesy of: Clutch Points. Other Pics courtesy of Sports Illustrated, Indy Star, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report, Coach Guy Sports, YouTube, Instazu.com and Fade-Away World.